Blues Music

Yolanda Rabun is a talented singer and storyteller.
Courtesy of Curtis Brown Photography

The musical legacy of Nina Simone is celebrated throughout the world, but to North Carolina she is a special treasure. Simone was born in the town of Tryon, where efforts are underway to turn her childhood home into a space that reflects her dynamic, complex legacy. Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation officially designated it a “National Treasure.”

Image of Harvey Dalton Arnold
Courtesy of Harvey Dalton Arnold

Harvey Dalton Arnold found fame on Southern stages, rocking out in bell-bottoms topped with big buckles. But before he opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd touring the country with The Outlaws, Arnold was helping his dad sell Ford tractors and raise chickens in Duplin County. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Rose Hill, a town of just over 1,500 that breaks out the world’s largest frying pan for its yearly Poultry Jubilee.

Freeman Vines holds a guitar that he carved out of wood thought to be from a tree that was used as a "hanging tree" in lynchings
Madeline Gray / For WUNC

The life of an aging blues or folk musician is not always pretty. Many of these old soulsters have not been able to retire with dignity. For the past 25 years, the Music Maker Relief Foundation has worked to improve the lives of these musicians. It has literally saved the lives and the music of more than 400 artists.

photo of Bill Ferris and Marcie Cohen Ferris
photo courtesy of Bill Ferris

William Ferris is known around North Carolina as a folklorist — a man whose passion is to chronicle the stories, music and culture of the American South. His love for documenting his communities began as a boy.  At 12 years old, he was given a camera and began to take photographs around his neighborhood in Warren County, Mississippi. There are tales of young Ferris taking a reel-to-reel recorder to record hymns at church. 

Photo of the band Chicken Shack
Courtesy of Chicken Shack

Andrew Dillon  grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where blues was not just a style of music, it was part of the culture and lifestyle. His father raised him in a house where music, instruments and performance were part of their everyday lives. It is no wonder Dillon brought that tradition with him to North Carolina. 

Greensboro's Chuck Mountain brings blues rock on the road this spring.
Courtesy Chuck Mountain

Chuck Mountain has not been on the Greensboro music scene long – the band just came to fruition in July – but they have already been on tour and laid down a number of original tracks. The band’s guitarist Beau James says their trip to Nashville, which included camping on the North Carolina state line, expedited the team bonding and lit a creative spark for the band. 

a picture of someone signing a picture of the band
courtesy of Gracie Curran

Gracie Curran grew up in the church. Her mom was the church choir director and most of the music in their house was gospel. While her friends enjoyed pop sensations like Britney Spears, Curran says she never really connected to popular music until she heard Etta James. James’s voice and lyrics spoke to her.

Courtesy of Emily Stewart and Matty Sheets

Magpie Thief is a stripped down folk-duo featuring Greensboro-based singer-songwriters Emily Stewart and Matty Sheets. For Stewart and Sheets, the heat of summer inspires some of their most creative work. They escape the sun and cozy up indoors in cool living rooms. As this summer approaches, Stewart and Sheets are hoping to veer away from their raw and eclectic folk sound and experiment with other genres, including the blues.